Little did I know when I took those first steps on my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail back in 2011 that it would fuel within me the deep desire to become a Triple Crowner: someone who has thru-hiked the three major National Scenic Trails-the AT, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. But, it did. Having completed the PCT in 2016, on June 29, 2017, I found myself at the northern terminus of the CDT in Glacier National Park. All that separated me from the fulfillment of that Triple Crown dream was some of the most challenging terrain in the hiking world. The Continental Divide Trail, often called “the big one” by hopeful triple crowners, is not only the longest of the three at over 3,000 miles, but with a slogan of “embrace the brutality” thru-hikers know it is going to be a tough hike. The CDT stretches from Canada to Mexico following the backbone of America through the Rocky Mountains. The trail starts in Montana before traversing through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and finally finishing up in New Mexico. The trail climbs to high alpine peaks, goes down to the desert floor and everything in between.
From the very start of the trail there was plenty of beauty to be had, but in the back of my mind all I could think about was reaching the Wind River Range in Wyoming- a dream of mine ever since I’d seen a picture of the range while flipping through Backpacker Magazine when I was 14. The Winds did not disappoint–from the huge granite walls soaring above pristine lakes, to the meadows filled with blooming flowers. But for all its beauty, the Winds did not come without a cost, and that cost was some of the most difficult hiking I had ever experienced. Climbing over Knapsack Col, my pace was slowed to a grueling mile-and-a-half an hour because of the steepness of the terrain with all its scree and boulder fields, and the many long snowy stretches. Without trekking poles, this section of the trail would have been a lot more challenging, but with quick adjusting poles like the Passport Tension Lock 130s, it made for seamless transitions from using the poles for balance to packing them away for hand-over-hand boulder scrambling, and then back out to help slow my pace down the scree fields.
The whole first half of the trail I was racing to get down to Colorado to try to beat the inevitable snow. Even with all my best efforts, it was for naught. The morning after climbing the highest peak on the CDT at 14,278 feet, I was greeted by flurries that quickly turned into whiteout conditions with winds blowing up to 70 miles-per-hour, and this was just a taste of what was to come. The snow made for many challenges, the most frustrating being post holing: often sinking up to my shin and sometimes even up to my waist, slowing my pace and tiring me out. The continuous high winds and storms of Colorado, however, made me thankful that I had decided to use a free standing tent like the Fly Creek instead of a tarp like I used on the PCT. On other hikes one of the things I dreaded most about camping in the snow was waking up freezing because of falling off my sleeping pad, but by using one of the system bags that Big Agnes has created, like the Blackburn UL 0, that never happened to me. Such a great tent/bag/pad combo made the most significant challenge of hiking in the cold and snowy conditions of Colorado getting out of bed in the morning!
It has been only few weeks since I finished the trail by reaching its southern terminus at the Mexican border. It still doesn’t feel real to me; it just feels like I have awoken from a long dream. I am sure that in the weeks to come it will sink in that I have accomplished a goal that has filled my head since 2011. I am not sure what adventures are next, but I am excited to find out. If you want to learn more about my thru-hiking experiences or where my next journey will take me, you can check out my website at douglashurdle.com or follow me on Instagram @douglashurdle.